My daughter’s school has a cute tradition. At the end of the school year, all the kindergarteners have a sleepover at the school with just the teachers (no parents!). This is the first time for many of them to be sleeping away from their own beds and their parents. Our teachers are very brave (or very crazy!).
The kids really look forward to it all year. But as a parent, I was a little worried. Some parents worried about leaving their kids for the first time, or getting the dreaded midnight call to come pick up their home-sick child, but I was worried about my daughter not getting enough sleep. Would she stay up all night chitchatting with friends? Would the environment be too stimulating for sleep? Would being out of her routine mess everything up?
Turns out I worried unnecessarily. When we showed up at school the next morning, our daughter was all packed up, smiling, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Her teacher told us that she could tell which child lived with a sleep consultant – she was the first one to fall asleep! And despite being on the floor like a sardine with 14 other children and a teacher, she slept solidly all night. How was this possible?
We worked very hard teaching our daughter healthy sleep habits from an early age, so she knows how to fall asleep on her own without much fuss. And because on all other nights, we stick to a consistent routine and a relatively early bedtime, she can adapt pretty easily when she stays up late once in a while or sleeps in a different location. The key is having a healthy and consistent routine as a baseline. If kids become overtired for more than a day or two in a row, or don’t have a consistent routine, there is no good baseline to return to. So in those cases, one fun night out can spiral into weeks of poor sleep and even worse behavior.
As sleep consultants, Debbie and I help parents teach their children, as young as four months old, how to sleep independently. The skill of falling asleep unassisted is not innate but acquired, and it’s the skill needed for sleeping through the night. One of the best ways to teach it is by letting our children practice. When they are babies, we can put them down while they are still awake and let them fuss or cry while they settle down. For older kids, a sleepover is a great way for them to practice independent sleep. It teaches them that they can be OK without their parents for a little while.
For me, the kindergarten sleepover underscored the fact that establishing healthy sleep hygiene and habits for our kids continues to pay dividends long after infancy. It’s worth the effort to teach our kids how important sleep is for their health and well-being, and it is a gift we give them that they use their whole lives.